IRVING, Texas – For whatever other problems befall the Cowboys – injuries, defensive lapses – it was odd to see special teams miscues added to the list last weekend.
The Cowboys allowed a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Ravens receiver Deonte Thompson, putting Baltimore ahead 14-7 before their offense had even taken the field. It was quite a departure from the dependable play special teams coordinator Rich Bissacia saw from his group last season.
Photos from Wednesday's practice at Valley Ranch.
"As far as him, he has a high expectation and high standards for us," said Dwayne Harris. "For us, we don't let things like that happen."
Harris was one of the best returners in the league at both kicks and punts last season, averaging 30.6 and 12.8 yards, respectively. He was also the Cowboys' top playmaker on kick coverage units. With a 90-man roster and the year-to-year fluctuation on special teams units, Harris said it can be tough to transition, especially given the number of players participating during preseason games.
"It's definitely hard, because you don't know the mindset those guys are bringing into the special teams unit, so you've just got to get those guys on the same page as everybody else," he said. "Once you get that going, I think everybody works the same way – the wheels turn at the same pace." Fortunately for the Cowboys, this is actually familiar territory. Around this exact time last year, they allowed a 75-yard punt return touchdown to Cincinnati receiver Brandon Tate in their preseason win against the Bengals. They rebounded by not allowing any such play during the regular season.
[embedded_ad] "Last year we had a guy run back a punt against us, last preseason, and the whole season I think we didn't really give up any big-yard returns the whole season," Harris said. "It's just something we learn from and keep working on it."
Harris returned one punt for seven yards in the loss to Baltimore, but that has been his only return work of the preseason. He said he hasn't talked to the coaching staff about whether he'll do any returns in Miami this weekend, but it would likely be his only opportunity for game reps before the season opener.
Unlike other positions, however, Harris said he isn't as worried about getting reps at returns during games.
"Practice, I think, is way harder than the games anyway – for me," he said. "We're inside a stadium, but when we're outside with no stadium, the ball is over the place. So it's definitely more difficult to catch punts during practice than a game."